Dee's Projects

"Nobody trusts a young historian."

The door opened and I heard the jingle of Dee's keys as he put them on the table. Then I heard his briefcase thump as he dropped it on the chair. I went in to say hello and was startled to see his mud-streaked pants. He looked miserable! His arms and the backs of his hands had splotches of caked, dried mud spotting them, his shirt was damp and dirty and there were patches of mud on his forehead when he removed his wet baseball hat.

"What happened to you?" I asked. In a pathetic whimper he said, "Dear, I've had a really bad day."

He peeled off his wet and dirty duds, washed the mud out of his hair, and came into the kitchen shaky with hunger. After a restorative ham sandwich, he was able to tell me his tale.

Dee puts the story in history.

Dee is writing a second volume about the history of Midway, Utah, this time detailing the stories of more contemporary events and people. He had an interview scheduled with a former mayor. The 80+ year-old rancher met Dee at the town hall, riding aMule. It does everything the animal does: packs a load and is sure-footed on steep curves. But it's more like a 4-wheel drive golf cart, open on the sides for a breezy ride.

The mayor wanted to show Dee some particular accomplishments of his administration, and said they could get there easier in the Mule. Dee hopped aboard and they toured the irrigation ditches and discussed bringing water to the desert community in pioneer times. They visited some of the numerous old homes, and drove up to the top of Snake Creek Canyon. It was a great interview from both perspectives. The mayor had lots to talk about and finally somebody anxious to listen, and Dee was filling in many gaps in his research. There's no source like an original source, and this guy had actually lived Dee's story.

Suddenly there was a lightning bolt and an immediate crash of thunder. A cloudburst drenched them both within seconds. The rain wasn't falling down, it was being blown sidewards right through the open sides of the cart. The rancher knew all the hide-a-ways, and drove quickly to a passageway under the road where sheep cross without blocking traffic. The men clamored out of their cart and slid down to the tunnel, where they stood, sheltered from the pelting rain, listening to the fireworks going off in the sky. After about 30 minutes, the clouds cleared, and the sun came out.

As Dee was climbing the slick mud hill back up to the road, he lost his footing and slid, finally losing his balance and landing face first in the sludge. Embarrassed in front of his weathered guide, he said it was nothing, he was fine. He must have convinced the old guy, because he continued the excursion around the valley while Dee air-dried.

When he was dropped off back at the town hall, the mud was too wet to brush off, and not dry enough to chip off, but on the hour-long drive home it hardened and most of the big chunks fell off when he climbed out of the car. He staggered to our door and burst inside in a poof of dust.

Some people think historians just sit in a library and memorize dates. Not always. Lots of the time they're exploring interesting places looking for clues to unravel a mystery. The clues are in the types of mortar used in the buildings, the way the stones were cut, the tools left forgotten in the back of an ancient barn. There are clues in irrigation records, carved in tree trunks, and especially in the memories of old folks who did things the hard way and built a community.

Dee writes about many previously unknown heroes who made a difference in the past that made an impact on the future. They crossed rivers, stood against enemies, harvested boulders, chopped down trees, faced fire and floods, and probably had a lot of really bad days. I think Dee takes pleasure in having a bad day of his own once in a while, while pursuing and telling their stories.

Who in your past made a difference? What difference are you making for the future? If you've ever found yourself wallowing in the mud, writing about how you got out is really important. It might make a difference to somebody else when they have a really bad day. That's your history, in the making.